He was outnumbered and outgunned. They had the manpower and the resources. He didnt even have shoes. But on a summer night in 1988, John McClane triumphed over a group of terrorist criminals, using nothing but intelligence, attitude and sheer willpower.

In search marketing, we are all up against giants. This post is about doing more with less. Its about how to be the underdog and win. Its about being the Bruce Willis of search marketing.

Know what the competition is up to

John McClanes first priority was to figure out who he was up against. He checked the bad guys for IDs after he killed them, he stole a radio and listened in, he peered around corners and got to know the enemy.

This kind of competitive analysis is also your first step. Before you write a page - no, before you even build a site - look at who youre taking on. Search. Who is ranking high? Check OpenSiteExplorer.org. Do they have a powerful domain? High link popularity? A rocket launcher? If so, fine. At least now you know.

  • Dont play to their strengths. Dont start by targeting the main phrases of the major players. Its ineffective and discouraging.
  • Look for weaknesses. Be where they arent. Check Quora, Focus, LinkedIn, Google+, SlideShare, Friendster, anywhere.

But look out. Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) was also good at analyzing the competition. He saw that family photo, put the pieces together and figured out who he was dealing with.

Make Connections

McClane knew that he couldn't do it alone. To succeed, he had to get the attention of the powers-that-be. He did everything he could to reach out and finally made one valuable connection, Sergeant Powell. Sure, it wasn't exactly who he was hoping to reach, but he made the most of it.

As an underdog search marketer, the right connections are critical. You need to get the attention of the authorities (or at least, websites with high domain authority). This might be a powerful blog or a major publication. Here are two underdog tactics that work:

  • Use dramatic means if necessary: take a strong position on a topic and write on it.
  • Use persistence when necessary: leave thoughtful comments on their posts, retweet their content, and slowly but surely, you'll get their attention.

SEO is fundamentally about connections. Even action heroes need buddies.

Don't waste your resources

Remember Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne Robinson? The one who sent the SWAT team charging into the Nakatomi building? He just picked his target and sent in the troops. People died. Not a good use of resources.

Advertising is often like that. Sending in the troops and hoping for the best. You need a big budget, and its trial and error. Although more trackable, pay-per-click marketing (PPC) is often like this. Its fine for people who don't have the endurance and skill for SEO.

As an underdog marketer, you cant afford to advertise and you wouldn't want to anyway. You've got more brains than budget, so stick to content marketing. In the end, McClane did a lot more good than Deputy Chief Robinson.

Go where they wont go

It takes guts to climb down elevator shafts and crawl through the air ducts. These are small spaces that any sane person would avoid. But you'll go there. This is Die Hard SEO.

Dig deep into your keyphrase research. That's where you find the phrases that they missed. This is how you sneak past them. Target more phrases; some may have lower search volume, but they might still be highly relevant.

Create pages for all these phrases, adding new sections to your site. This creates internal linking opportunities. And when you start winning little battles, move up to bigger battles.

Never Give Up

Perseverance, obviously, is what its all about. McClane never gives up, and that's why he wins in the end.But Die Hard isn't a movie, its a franchise. Its all about the sequels. Did they stop after Die Hard grossed $83 million? Nope. They made three more movies and another $350 million. And they're not done yet.
Look for a new Die Hard next year. SEO is a marathon and a test of wills. So research the competition carefully. Target the keyphrases others wont. Keep making connections. Keep to your calendar for creating content. Relentlessly look for linking and PR opportunities.And never, never give up. That's Die Hard SEO.
Yippy-kai-yay.